Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Place You'll Go....

I am a natural born traveler. Been that way my whole life. My father was in the Navy for nearly 15 years, so I spent many of my formative years being a transplant in new cities and places. As a young person, this can either make or break your personality. Thankfully, it made mine! My love of unusual experiences and the unknown has only grown over the years. And as I get older, I travel more, and discover new pieces of me. 

My most recent journey took place on the gorgeous island of Jamaica. I have heard many stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly about Jamaica, but nothing prepared me for the journey that awaited on this joyous occasion. It is not everyday that your best friend gets married, but whenever they do, you must be in attendance, so off to Jamaica I went!

The journey to Marcel's home country started for me on September 5th. After spending several hours on different  planes, I landed in Miami, my first stop. While there, I managed to enjoy a few bites and fabulous conversation with my friend Rachel. This was Rachel and I's first time meeting since we were technologically introduced by a mutual friend. Like most people, we wanted to hit the Miami strip and enjoy a little fine cuisine (sarcasm) and conversation. This consisted of Wet Willies and talking about our futures, family, and the men in our lives.

After dinner and the beginning of a fabulous relationship with Rachel, I went to my great Uncle's house and stayed the night. He has lived in Miami for over 35 years, so whenever I go, it is  must that I see him! We got caught up on each other's lives, he prepared a feast for me which I happily devoured, we watched a completely, ridiculous film about genetically altered, alligators (Aunt Ruby's choice), and drank rum and cokes all night: it was awesome. The night came and went and finally it was time for Jamaica. 

I could not wait to get on the plane, slouch down in my seat, and let my mind drift away thinking about all the adventures to be had. After several conversations with my fellow "flightees," the plane landed. I got off, went through customs, got a very expensive taxi ride (20 American bucks!) to the shuttle I was supposed to take and still missed it! 

Being the ultra resourceful person I am, I found a lovely yet slightly disgruntled bus boy to walk me over to the "bus station" and ride the city bus. I hopped on the city bus wearing a flirty, floral print frock, chocolate mousse and hot neon ankle strap heels, a Louis Vuitton carryon, and the curliest, blonde head of hair they ever saw: I definitely fit in.

The bus ride was unreal. The curves, turns, and twists had my stomach in knots, but I relished it. When was I ever going to be riding the city bus with locals dressed like a total tourist and completely unsure of where I was going exactly? Probably never again, so I better enjoy it while it last is what I thought. The bus conductor managed to fall completely in love with me during the 3 hour bus ride. He was actually a very nice, young man from Montego Bay who helped me out tremendously: he transferred my American money into Jamaican money and got me cab before I got whisked away by one of the many boisterous taxi drivers dying for a customer. 

After catching a ride, I managed to get to a destination that had many other Americans: The Salvation Army. Since my best friend is a member of the church, I felt at ease with the relative strangers. I became reacquainted with Marcel's good friend Steve and his new wife Solivi and met some other new friends. 

The rehearsal dinner had me tearing up over everything. The decor definitely screamed WE'RE IN LOVE! The colorful, floating candles, surrounded by crystals, bright orange and blue table cloths, and a soothing water fountain made the craziness of my journey to Kingston a distant memory. I knew I was among friends, best of all my best friend.  

The heartfelt speeches and tender moments shared between the couple almost helped ease the pain of being a single woman at a wedding as well as being a hungry one. Being a vegetarian in Jamaica is not the easiest. Many of the dishes that do not have meat still have animal stock. Plus almost every major meal has rice as a side. Though not a bad pairing, rice can only be prepared so many ways, before you start longing for the age old, safe plate: a salad. 

Being my natural self, I had to get a slice of the Jamaican night life, so we had to go out! Since it was Marcel's last night as a single man, it was more like an impromptu bachelor party. We ended up at a club that focused on style much more than dancing. Sure there was dancing, but there was much more "watching" of others fashions, lack there of, and of course body parts. Derrieres seemed to be the body part of choice to "observe." For this very reason, I almost got kidnapped for the 4th out of nearly 10 times in Jamaica that night. 

Side note, from my own, personal female observation, Jamaican men are extremely aggressive in their pursuit of a female. Whether it be grabbing your wrist and leading you to the dance floor, whistling, or creating a song that gives you their phone number, they are heavily after the opposite sex. It is an overwhelming yet empowering feeling that can make any woman feel irresistible and self conscious. You've been warned....

Whenever I go out, I have a ritual that I hardly ever break no matter where I am: I always eat early morning nosh. Jamaica was no different. There was not a Denny's or IHOP who happily served up the early morning calories to late night partiers, but there was a Pita Grill. Pita Grill was definitely the healthiest early morning nosh I ever had in my life. As we reminisced on all the damage we did to the dance floor, I munched on my curried, chickpea and potato pita wrap with a side of cheese fries (The American in me) and an extra sweet Sprite (foreign soda is naturally sweeter): IT WAS DIVINE!!! 

Finally, the wedding came. It was a day filled with emotion and deep thoughts. I thought about the countless conversations me and my best friend had over the years about our "future spouses," how we would never forget about one another, and how we would ALWAYS be friends. Now more than ever, I hope those words were genuine because I surely cannot fathom my life without Marcel Moore in it. 

I did shed a tear and I prayed right then and there that I would find someone who I felt I could not live without. It is a scary thought too intense to comprehend yet I look forward to the day it is a reality. Fact: Jamaican weddings are naturally gorgeous because of the glorious beach breezes that fill the church, the ocean is only a few feet away, and the lush greenery sends your mind into a permanent state of peace. It is surreal. 

The reception was especially great because I finally had some red pea soup. Side note: red pea soup does not actually have red peas in it, but red beans. I learned this from my uncle upon my return back to Miami. I didn't care what it had in it, I simply loved that it was vegetarian and delicious! At the reception, the night was definitely danced away and more emotions clouded the room. Mine, his, and every guest in the room who seemed to wear theirs on the beautiful dresses and suits they owned (a grown man cried like a baby when giving his speech to Marcel). 

After dancing my fabulous feet off (BCBG is the best place for wedding shopping), I managed to find time to relax in my hotel room for a few hours. Within this time, I had a mini photo session on the balcony (I am that girl), ordered a Ting (had to have one) from room service, and bought a few things online. The resort was especially fabulous. I felt like I could have gone out an found any guy in the lobby, grabbed him, and married him just to say I did so at a hotel so beautiful! If you are ever in Kingston, I highly recommend The Knuftsford Court Hotel....bellissma! 

The wedding weekend ended with a fun, witty conversation about travel, culture, and life with Marcel's friend Keith and his wife taking me back to Montego Bay from Kingston in their rental car. We had a blast! We laughed, ate some yummy fun at The Island Grill restaurant (very vegetarian friendly), got a few souvenirs, and formed an incredible bond. I will forever be grateful to them for taking me back and making sure, a single, traveling woman, got on her plane safely. The Grahams are magnificent in my book! 

Finally, it was time to get back to Miami and then Phoenix. They say, the places you'll go change you as a individual over time. This is definitely true in my opinion. Though only there for a weekend, I felt a shift in who I was before. I realized, that the adventure of a journey is sometimes the best part, money is not everything, and faith is crucial upon travel. It was my faith that allowed me to travel to a foreign country without fear of being attacked, taken, or worse. Faith is everything. 

My devine faith allowed me to see the many lovely places that Jamaica had to offer. I will carry this same faith with me when I go back which should be very soon. I love a journey, hopefully that will never change. If sitting next to a 60 something year old ,college professor at ASU who splits her time between Germany and America on the plane ride to Miami had assured me anything, it's that you're never too old to travel or have the adventure of your lifetime! 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

I Will Remember You

It is truly better to have loved than to have never loved at all, but losing love is devastating each and every time. In the year 2013 alone, I have lost 6 people. The most shocking reality of this matter is that I have lost those 6 people within five months of each other. I lost my paternal grandpa first, two cousins, an uncle, an uncle once removed, and a lastly, my great-grandmother. Over the course of a few years, I went from being a girl who rarely lost a loved one, to losing more people each month. I cannot count the many mornings I woke in tears from the news that this relative died from a heart attack or this relative finally succumbed to cancer. The amount of stress that the human body can take is incredible. 

I have allowed the stress of these deaths to affect me in a multitude of ways. One of the main ways is gaining weight and losing focus. My mind has been so busy trying to adapt to a new job, saving money, constant trips down south, weddings, birthdays, and funerals, sometimes I don't know if I am coming over going. My faith feels like it is constantly being tested and I am failing every single one of them. 

Other than my Paw Paw's death, my great-grandmother's death was truly the hardest. This was a woman who outlived all her siblings, took care of the one's who were in poor health, raised a child that was not even hers, worked stressful jobs, lived through some of the darkest times in the country, and still managed to smile daily. During the week of her funeral, I must have cried a thousands times because I kept remembering all of the beautiful moments I had with her. I remember how she loved watermelon (especially the sweet ones), how she never ate out, she cooked daily, loved buttermilk, rarely drove, loved to watch wrestling, she prayed regularly, and most importantly, she treated everyone well. 

I cannot think of one bad thing I have heard anyone say about my Big Mama. She was loved by everyone she met. I recall when I was little and I stayed in Louisiana for the summer with my grandparents. My paternal grandma, my Mima was teaching sumer school and my Paw Paw would be asleep and resting for work. So, everyday Mima would wake me up, we would get dressed, and we would head to Big Mama's. I was not so happy to be there alone (my sister was still in school and stayed in Atlanta with my parents), but Big Mama made me feel ok. We would watch wrestling, eat biscuits, bacon, grits, and eggs for breakfast, clean up (what little I could do), and when I was sleepy, we would nap together. 

The feeling that remains with me to this day when I think of her is: comfort. I always felt love, acceptance, and comfort. I always knew I could get a warm, (fattening), delicious meal, a hug, kisses, and a slap on the butt (she always did that). I never knew anything different. My Big Mama was simply awesome. I used to marvel at how she took in so many people and took care of them. I wish I had an ounce of her kindness and generosity. I know she is no longer with us, but I would like to think I learned compassion from her. I hope to always carry these memories, lessons, and moments with me for  the rest of my life. Yeah, I don't want to cry anymore this year, I just want to remember the people I lost in the best way possible. That makes me happy.